Fossil fuel and LNG subsidies in B.C., and an alternate viewpoint on the issue

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) maintains an ongoing initiative, the Global Subsidies Initiative , to research fossil fuel subsidies worldwide.  Their most recent publication relating to Canada is  Locked In and Losing Out: British Columbia’s fossil fuel subsidies. The authors calculate that BC’s fossil fuel subsidies reached  $830 million Cdn.  in 2017–2018, with no end in sight. Despite B.C.’s clean energy image, the report documents the significant new support granted by the current B.C. government to encourage the liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry.  Locked In and Losing Out calls for the provincial government to create a plan to phase-out its own subsidies, and coordinate with the federal government in its current  G20 Peer Review of fossil fuel subsidies, launched in 2019 and administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada.   In August 2019, the IISD also released its Submission to Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Consultation on Non-Tax Fossil Fuel Subsidies calling for Canada to re-affirm its long-standing  G7 commitment to reform fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 and provide a detailed action plan to achieve the goal.  

new labor forumAn alternate view

Sean Sweeney of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy takes an alternate view on fossil fuel subsidies in “Weaponizing the numbers: The Hidden Agenda Behind Fossil-Fuel Subsidy Reform” appearing in the January 2020 issue of  New Labor Forum. As might be expected, Sweeney challenges the findings and assumptions of the International Monetary Fund (for example, in a 2019 working paper by David Coady ). He also takes issue with some progressive analysis – notably, he cites  Fossil Fuel to Clean Energy Subsidy Swaps: How to Pay for an Energy Revolution (2019) and Zombie Energy: Climate benefits of ending subsidies to fossil fuel production (2017)  – both published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).  After a brief discussion of the main concepts, Sweeney concludes:

“For activists in the North, making fossil-fuel subsidies a key political target is a mistake. It buys into the IMF’s obsession with “getting energy prices right” which targets state ownership and regulation of prices. Such an approach may lead to a more judicious use of energy, but it would not address the mammoth challenges involved in transitioning away from fossil fuels, controlling and reducing unnecessary economic activity, or reducing emissions is expeditiously as possible.

The problem is fossil fuel dependency, not underpriced energy. Raising the price without alternative forms of low-carbon energy available for all will not produce the kind of emissions reductions the world needs. This does not mean that progressive unions and the left should support subsidies for fossil fuels—especially when the beneficiaries are large for-profit industrial users or billionaire Lamborghini owners cruising the strips in Riyadh or Shanghai. But there is a need to be aware of what the IMF and the subsidy reform organizations are proposing, and what these proposals might mean for workers and ordinary people, especially in the Global South.”

 

 

 

Canadian doctors call for moratorium on fracking for gas

On January 29, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) released a report which documents the serious health and environmental dangers associated with fracked natural gas, calling for the phase-out of existing fracking operations and a moratorium on any new fracking projects. CAPE also calls for Just Transition plans to help workers and the communities which would be affected.  Canada is the world’s fourth largest producer of natural gas, and in 2018, 71% of that was “fracked gas”, mostly produced in northeastern British Columbia.  The Narwhal offers a good  (though now dated) explainer about fracking in Canada, and offers several in-depth articles, including “Potential health impacts of fracking in B.C. worry Dawson Creek physicians” (April 2019). The Narwhal has also published recent articles by Ben Parfitt of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives B.C., who has also written extensively about fracking and LNG in B.C. Most recently, Peace River Frack-up  was released by CCPA-BC in January,  calling for an immediate ban on fracking activity for operations  close to BC Hydro’s two existing Peace River dams and the Site C dam, because of the risk of dam failure from fracking-caused earthquakes.

The CAPE report, Fractures in the Bridge: Unconventional (Fracked) Natural Gas, Climate Change and Human Health  documents the environmental and climate change impacts of fracking, with an over-riding concern about the significant health dangers, especially for communities and workers. The report notes: “Data from the US show that the risk of death among workers in this sector is two-and-a half-times higher than the risk for workers in construction and seven times higher than the risk for industrial workers as a whole.”  “America’s Radioactive Secret” is a troubling article which appeared in Rolling Stone on January 21, summarizing a journalistic investigation of the  unregulated trucking of fracking waste: “Oil-and-gas wells produce nearly a trillion gallons of toxic waste a year. An investigation shows how it could be making workers sick and contaminating communities across America.”

Fractures in the Bridge provides a Canadian perspective on the overwhelming evidence from established studies which have reported “negative health outcomes including adverse birth outcomes, birth defects including congenital heart defects and neural tube defects, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, dermal effects, gastrointestinal symptoms, neurological effects, psychological impacts and respiratory illnesses.” Fractures in the Bridge  also provides a very complete bibliography as well as an appendix showing how fracking is regulated in each province in Canada.

An important related source of information, updated in 2019, is the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction) , published by the Concerned Health Professionals of New York (CHPNY) and Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR).

Federal government announces $275 Million subsidy to LNG Canada in B.C.

Despite the ongoing contentious development of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) in British Columbia and commitments to end fossil fuel subsidies, on June 24 federal Finance Minister Morneau  announced that the federal government will invest $275 million into LNG Canada’s $40 billion liquefied natural gas project in Kitimat: $220 million to be spent on energy-efficient gas turbines for the project, and  $55 million spent on replacing the Haisla Bridge in Kitimat. The announcement is summarized by the CBC in “Feds announce $275M ‘largest private sector investment in Canadian history’ — Kitimat, B.C.’s LNG project”

The Narwhal maintains an ongoing archive of excellent articles which chronicle the controversy over fracking and LNG in B.C,  here .  Two recent “must read” articles from: “6 Awkward Realities behind B.C.’s big LNG Giveaway”  (April 6)  which discusses the B.C. government’s move to bundle tax exemptions and cheap electricity rates into a $5.35 billion  incentive package for  LNG Canada in March 2019, and “B.C. government quietly posts response to expert fracking report” (June 28) which discusses the government’s  response to the report of its own  independent Scientific Review of Hydraulic Fracturing in British Columbia, released in February 2019. As noted in the Narwhal article, the panel was mandated to assess the potential impacts of fracking on water quantity and quality; on seismic activity, and on  fugitive emissions – but not on public health, despite concerns raised and the known scientific evidence.  According to the government news release,  a working group has been established to address the  97 recommendations made by the expert panel.

Some recent relevant reading about LNG and the fracking associated with its production: 

RE the Emissions of LNG: The New Gas Boom , published  on July 1 by the Global Energy Monitor, an international non-governmental organization that catalogues fossil-fuel infrastructure. The report states that a growing global supply of natural gas is on a “collision course” with the Paris Agreement, and that the increase in natural gas is driven largely by the North American fracking boom- with 39% of new development  occurring in the U.S., 35% in Canada.  The GEM report is discussed from a Canadian viewpoint in  “Global boom in natural gas is undermining climate change action: reportNational Observer (July 2)  and  “’Clean’ natural gas is actually the new coal, report says: Don Pittis” at CBC  .  Previous to the Global Energy Monitor report, Marc Lee had weighed in on the high GHG emissions of fracked natural gas in  “ LNG’s Big Lie”, an article in the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Policy Note ( Lee’s arguments were also published in The Georgia Straight,  (June 17) and an OpEd in The Globe and Mail . )

compendium re frackingIn the U.S.   in June 19, The sixth edition of the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking  was published by Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of New York. Written by scientists, doctors and journalists, it is an analysis of original research studies published from 2016-2018 on the health impacts of fracking . One of the most impactful statements from the press release: “The notion that natural gas can serve as an intermediate “bridge fuel” between coal and renewable energy is fallacious and now disproven by new scientific evidence showing that methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas than formerly appreciated and escapes in larger amounts from all parts of the extraction and distribution process than previously presumed, including from inactive, long-abandoned wells. Grossly underestimating methane emissions threatens to undermine the efficacy of efforts to combat climate change.” A summary press release is here ,  or see the Common Dreams article “’We Need to Ban Fracking’: New Analysis of 1,500 Scientific Studies Details Threat to Health and Climate”   (June 19).

International Energy Agency report, LNG Market Trends and their Implications   (June 20) provides statistical analysis of the changing Asian markets for LNG.

B.C. LNG project approved despite emissions, fracking

lngcanadakitimat1_160204Described as one of the largest infrastructure projects ever in Canada, a $40-billion liquefied natural gas project in northern British Columbia was approved on October 1, and the five investors – Royal Dutch Shell, Mitsubishi Corp., Malaysian-owned Petronas, PetroChina Co. and Korean Gas Corp. –  have stated that construction on the pipeline and a processing plant will begin immediately. According to the CBC report , the project is expected to employ as many as 10,000 people in its construction and up to 950 in full-time jobs. The processing plant will be located in Kitimat, which is within the traditional territory of the Haisla First Nation, and which is in favour of the project, as are the elected councils of 25 First Nations communities along the pipeline route.  The B.C. Federation of Labour also supports the project, as stated in its press release: “The Federation and a number of other unions have been part of the LNG process since 2013….As a part of the former Premier’s LNG Working Group, and the new government’s Workforce Development Advisory Group with First Nations and LNG Canada, labour pushed for many of the work force provisions that are reflected in today’s final investment decision”.

That leaves environmental activists in opposition. Although B.C.’s Premier announced the project with as “B.C.’s new LNG Framework to deliver record investment, world’s cleanest LNG facility”  , the project’s emissions will represent more than one-quarter of B.C.’s legislated targets for carbon pollution in 2050.  Both the Pembina Institute and Clean Energy Canada   note how difficult it will be to reach B.C.’s targets for clean growth (currently under a consultation process), and Pembina warns of the dangers of fracking and of methane emissions associated with natural gas.  Reflecting years of opposition, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives wrote   “LNG is incompatible with B.C.’s climate obligations” (July 11). As far back as 2015, CCPA B.C. published  A Clear Look at B.C. LNG: Energy Security, Environmental Implications, and Economic Potential ,  by David Hughes.   An October 2  Maclean’s published an Opinion  piece, “Will LNG Canada increase greenhouse-gas emissions? It’s complicated.”  which considers (and rejects) the idea that B.C. LNG  might have a global benefit if it displaces coal use in China .

And finally, the issue of fossil fuel subsidies, which Canada and other G20 countries have promised to phase out.  In  “LNG Canada project called a ‘tax giveaway’ as B.C. approves massive subsidies” in The Narwhal,  author Sarah Cox reports that a senior B.C. government official “pegged the province’s total financial incentives for the project at $5.35 billion”, including break on the carbon tax, cheaper electricity rates, a provincial sales tax exemption during the project’s five-year construction period, and a natural gas tax credit.

The B.C. Green party, which has to date supported the current minority NDP government through a Confidence and Supply Agreement , maintains an online petition called  LNG is not worth it  . Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver issued this statement on October 1, expressing disappointment and stating:

“The government does not have our votes to implement this regime…..Despite our profound disappointment on this issue, we have been working closely in good faith with the government to develop a Clean Growth Strategy to aggressively reduce emissions and electrify our economy. The B.C. NDP campaigned to implement a plan to meet our targets and reaffirmed that promise in our Confidence and Supply Agreement. We will hold them to account on this. We will have more to say once that plan becomes public later this year.”

Updates: British Columbia’s New Climate Bureaucrat and LNG

Activists in B.C. are dismayed by the March 22 appointment of the person who will lead B.C.’s upcoming Climate Leadership Plan: see  “Fazil Mihlar, former Fraser Institute director, tapped as B.C.’s Deputy Climate Minister”  in the National Observer. Despite widespread public opposition – especially from the local group My Sea to Sky –  the Woodfibre LNG project was awarded federal approval, with conditions, on March 18 .  And in what is seen as a serious test of Canada’s climate commitment ,  Federal Minister McKenna has delayed the decision on the Pacific Northwest LNG project ; see “ Tensions tighten as Ottawa Prepares Decision on Pacific Northwest LNG”   in the Globe and Mail  or “Decision time for Trudeau: Climate Commitments or LNG legacy” in the  National Observer.  See also the Policy Note from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, “B.C. government spin cycle on LNG”  (March 15),   summarizing the results of freedom of information requests regarding natural gas supplies, environmental impacts, and economic benefits of developing LNG.     On a more positive note, Premier Clark announced funding of $11.9 million from the Province’s Innovative Clean Energy (ICE) Fund for three programs aimed at promoting clean-energy vehicles, clean air and clean water.   Details of the Clean Energy Vehicle Program are here  .